The question is lopsided by necessity. The latest to pose it is amateur historian Jonathan Rees for Inside Higher Ed, on a post the prey of passionate debate one neighborhood over on the Canvas community pages. It demands a certain mood for thought experiments, but in fairness, he is not alone on either fearing or working towards a “system-less” future.
Before dealing with the consequences, it is only reasonable to recognize the factors that if properly unfolded, would render the LMS obsolete:
- An already popular non-LMS solution becomes a good enough substitute at a much better user experience. Google remains the ideal candidate, if not through one app but its G Suite bundle and the Classroom add-on. (A fair question: Why hasn’t this happened already?)
- Corporate consolidation allows for a “race to zero” that may not kill LMS but limit then two a few players who can offer cloud-based learning at unbeatable prices, erasing all competition. Or in the blunt, almost sadistic words of Amazon’s Bezos: “Your margin is my opportunity.”
- The newer generations of educator and students not just eschew old models, but actively work to bury it and set a brand new start, and do it in a rush. Unexpected, new flashier apps go viral all of the sudden to dealt a final blow.
- A model of true, decentralized (or as some insist on calling it, “federated“) education proves sustainable and reaches massive growth before existing LMS get in on it.
Now, the second part of the discussion concerns whether these factors would lead to a better or worse outcome. In other words, will future classes be free from the shackles the LMS became for present-day students; or if its weakened role will fall prey to commercial solutions, leading to fragmentation, high costs and even worse scenarios of privacy and civil liberties.
The debate, at this point, is riddled with speculations. Which is not to say key moves, if seen collectively, will not prove crucial to understanding the desires and anxieties of the market going forward. In the specific case of Moodle, there are key attributes which can guarantee survival, with a key caveat: It might need to think beyond the LMS form. Not so much the product, which may actually survive; but the mindset.
- API or die. Moodle’s internal infrastructure, one of its lesser-known strengths, is based on them. It is a clear method to keep control of data flows. The challenge: Allowing the APIs to interact with the ecosystem at large in a secure and seamless way. The LMS would still be there, even if students don’t realize it.
- Federated MoodleNet. While the current blueprints for the social network show limited functionality, it could very well be Moodle’s interface for the coming decade. The challenge: Going beyond the already aging social network paradigm and anticipating the future expectations of digital interactions and user feeds. (In other words, Instagram, not Facebook.)
- An “Evidence” (Learning Record) Management System. What if the future of the LMS is an LMS-LRS hybrid? It’s already clear that data is only becoming a stronger prerogative across organizations of all sizes. The challenge: For the ecosystem at large, to learn how to articulate a common language, one that arguably already exists: xAPI. This will change the game, turning the LMS from the “walled garden” Rees argues they are, into “hubs” that help users track and showcase their progress to anyone.